• SaintsPlay - Adapting Sport to Less Active People

    14m 39s

    Lisa Laing has worked in the AFL Industry for 14 years, 9 years in the AFL leading a team responsible for membership services across the AFL Industry and 5 years St Kilda FC initially leading the Consumer Business and currently the Saints Community Engagement and Football programs. Lisa is an alumni of the Leadership Victoria FOLIO Community Leadership Program and is passionate about bringing social issues to the fore through the powerful voice of elite sports people and clubs.

Graphical summary and transcript

Hey, thank you very much for having me here this afternoon. And I’m really thrilled to be here to speak to you about a journey that the St Kilda football club has taken. A program that we’ve just launched this year.

A program that’s called Saints Play. And Saints Play is a program, it’s an Auskicks like program that’s helping to impact the lives of young children with developmental challenges and intellectual disabilities. And it’s a program that we’ve seen the pilot complete, and having seen that pilot completed, we would dream that any child with a developmental challenge or intellectual disability has the opportunity to participate in an AFL program with their own community.

And I’m going to touch a little bit today about the AFL landscape, about closing gaps, about partnerships and also about adapting our sport to meet a need. And Saints Play is a program about connection, belonging, and about individuals. And it’s a program that is intrinsic and part of the St. Kilda football club’s heart.

I’ll talk about St. Kilda football club journey and I’ll also talk about it through the journey of young 9 nine year old Saige Ball.

So St. Kilda football club is a football club that was born from and resides still in the bayside of Melbourne. It’s been around for 145 years and more. Port Melbourne to Port Sea, is what we call our bayside backyard. And it is through the continued support of that bayside community we still continue to exist today. I’m going to introduce you to Saige Ball.

Saige Ball was born into a Saints family. Generations of Saint’s members and volunteers who proudly wear the red, white and black. Saige’s mom proudly describes Saige as a girly-girl. And as you can see on the screen, she’s a girl who loves to play the violin, who loves to play the cello, she loves to play with her dolls, and she loves to wear a tutu. She’s also a girl who has had no interest in playing sport, and so Saige is a child with autism.

My name is Lisa Lang, and I am the general manager of community at St. Kilda football club. And my role is really focused on delivering football programs and community engagement programs into our bayside community, and creating opportunities with the community that connect back with us. I’ve been very fortunate and very proud to lead programs in LGBTYQ, deaf and homelessness inclusion within our club. Supporting returning veterans, families with children with cancer, helping young people discover and build on their strengths. And wheelchair athletes realizing their dreams of playing for an AFL team.

I really think I have one of the best jobs in the AFL.

AFL, sorry, in Australia as you know, sport is a national pastime. It’s an intrinsic part of growing up and a way of life, and in Victoria, AFL is a sport of choice, but many people in the room may not agree with that.

We talk about success in the AFL in volumes. 45,000 members of a football club, 600,000 supporters, 50,000 attendees at a football game. And we have measured our football success in our bayside region by junior participation. We are 15,000 children playing AFL competition every week through the winter. We have 6,500 children that participate in Auskick programs. That’s 21,5000 children in our own bayside backyard that are playing some sort of football every year.

Our Saints Play program though is on a program is not based on volume. It’s a program that’s really based around deeper connection and changing the lives of just a few.

In 2016, I was introduced to 2 organizations that were making amazing difference through research but involved children with developmental challenges and participation in sport. Deacon University’s Child Study Center who were launching an All Play website. All Play was a research and resource play platform for children, coaches, clubs, and parents around sport. And Moose Toys. Moose Toys is an Australian toy company that is located in Cheltenham and is owned by amazing Saints supporters of Deacon’s All Play research.

From this first meeting that we had, we came up with the idea for a singular football club to host the launching of the All Play website. And to host the first football prelim day. A prelim day was introducing families with children with differing abilities to Auskick, to try a few of the Auskick activities and to hopefully then join an Auskick center. This meeting was also my first introduction to understanding that one in five children have a development challenge or intellectual disability.

And when I thought about those numbers and though about our participation that was in our bayside community I realized that we were still probably missing out on 20% of children because we were not offering them a program that they could feel comfortable in and participate in, in a sport that is most loved by Victorians.

We went ahead and launched the All Play website and first prelim day in early 2017.

And my team and I were so inspired by the work that we saw, that Deacon that Moose were achieving and also by the families that had taken a chance and given this program an opportunity to come and see what it was about. The smiles on the faces of those young children as they left that afternoon, having had an afternoon playing football was just something really special and we knew that they had had a great experience.

We knew that we would continue to run this prelim day with Deacon going forward but we also knew that we wanted to do so much more and there was more that we could do.

We went back and we investigated further into our bayside region. One that had the densest region of football clubs, junior football clubs and Auskick centers in Victoria, and we realized there were very few that have Auskick availabilities approved. In fact, three Auskick facilities out of our 53 in our bayside region were offering a program for children with differing abilities. And yet in that same region, we have 12 special development schools. So there’s another gap. A large number of children that are attending special development schools, there’s no opportunity for them to participate in our sport.

Later on that year Vic Health launched their 2017 innovation challenge. That challenge is challenging sporting organizations to find ways to make their sport more accessible for more people and to make more Victorians active. So we want to take this idea and put an idea to submit to the innovation challenge around this gap of being a prelim day and then joining an Auskick center. Knowing that that one experience of prelim day was not enough to then have the confidence to join an Auskick center and there was something really missing.

So we evolved our thinking with our program which we’ve called Saints Play, and we wanted to run that into special development schools in our region as a four week, fully funded program for children to engage in our sport in an environment in which they are already comfortable in and also as a 6 week program.

I’m calling that our Auskick Apprenticeship program. A 6 week program for children to come and learn more skills and get more comfort in understanding football, before they might transition to an Auskik center and also an apprenticeship program for some of our community coaches to come and learn and gain skills, hands on skills, on how to coach children with different abilities.

So those were where the partnership pieces comes in. So within our partnership Deacon and with AFL we submitted our idea to the Vic Health Innovation Challenge and we were really thrilled to find out that we were the winner of that seed funding to go and put our program into place and to really start making a difference. So we saw Saints Play as an opportunity to take that Deacon groundbreaking research, put it into practice at the grassroots level and make AFL more accessible to more families in our bayside region.

Saige Ball kind of comes into play a little bit here again, though she wasn’t interested in sport. Her Saints family enrolled her into a prelim day that we were hosting in 2018. Saige came to that day. She had a great time engaging in the sport and at the club. And she met and made a great connection with a wonderful Auskick coordinator from a local Auskick center. And coincidentally the following week we were launching our Saints Play school program into Saige’s primary school, so she had two hits at football. One at this prelim day, and four weeks into her school.

While we are looking at this, we’re still looking at how we’re going to build Auskick Apprenticeship Start Program. So went to Deacon with challenges that faced families with these children in being able to participate in our programs. And we looked at what we could really do to break those down and make it more accessible.

So first we looked at the numbers, we were offering our children to two regions in bayside in the north and the south and we offered it out and had really limited numbers at 25 into each of our programs, and that was to make sure that we could have the coach ratio to student to children that were participating.

We also looked at no commitment. People didn’t have to log or sign up for a 6 or 12 week program, they could come on a day when they were available, and if they weren’t able to come, they weren’t able to come. We reduced the length of time of our sessions to only about 45 to 50 minutes. We introduced, as you can see on the board, some visual kind of displays to help those children visually as well as verbally the skills we were trying to teach them.

We had it in indoors, so weather through the winter wasn’t a concern for children. And we had a real diverse group of coaches. We wanted this to be a real place where players and coaches could learn with hands on experience and be supported in working with children of differing abilities.

So engaged a number of coaches across a whole diverse range of age, gender, culture. We engaged wheelchair teams so we had coaches that had physical disabilities, and we also had a coach with an intellectual disability. All of our coaches went through disability awareness training, which is conducted by Deacon’s All Play team and they received feedback across that 6 weeks, and feedback post-program completing.

So we’ve now piloted this program across two regions. We’ve had some great feedback, both positive and constructive from our parents and our coaches to help us really move this program forward.

We’ve had 37 children who’ve kind of graduated from our Saints Play Auskick Apprenticeship Style Program. We have had many families make contact with us to see when we were going to being running another program. And as importantly we have had 14 coaches that have now come and had training, hands on experience with working with children with disabilities. And are much more skilled in being to go back and take the skills back to their local community clubs and Auskick centers.

So, Saige, again, Saige has had an amazing football career in 2018. She joined a prelim day. She participated in a 4 week skills program. And with that experience and confidence she enjoying her Auskick Center. The Auskick Center where she had made that connection at the prelim day with a coach. She would arrive at Auskick early every day to help set up and she’d leave late every time to help pack down. And at the end of that Auskick season she still hadn’t had enough of football so she came and joined our Saints Play Auskick Apprenticeship Style Program at our (12:05) facility.

So if a little girl who had had no interest in sports has certainly come a long way in 2018 and become fully entrenched. And from all of this we have a lot of hopes and dreams about our Saints Play Program. We hope to be able to deliver our Saints School program into every special development school in Victoria.

We hope to be able to run our Saints Play Auskick Apprenticeship Style Program through every school term in 2019 in our bayside region and hopefully broader into Victoria as well. We want our two hubs that we set up to be real community coached development hubs so that they can really get hands on experience and use that to take those skills back to their own Auskick centers and their junior clubs to make them more accessible for more kids.

And for the kids that come through our program, we hope that when they are ready to graduate and transition to a junior club or an Auskick center we can help them do that and they can continue on with their football careers.

I’d like to finish today just with a short video that really showcases the work that Saige’s is putting into 2018. And hope you can see the joy on her face as she really takes part in football.

We’ve come for?



The Saints Play’s a program developed for 5 to 13 year old children to come down and try football for the first time for the most of kids that come down on the Autism spectrum or have ADHD or learning difficulties.

I didn’t think AFL would be good at all for Saige, but we saw the free trial day, I just though, well we may as well give it a go. Low and behold she loved it.

The opportunity that Vic Health presented through their innovation challenge for sport is just fantastic, we are very lucky to receive funding which has enabled us to test the market to kids on the Autism spectrum who want to play Auskick. Hopefully we proved that. A really important aspect of our program is the chill out zone. Let the kids relax if they need a little bit of time out before they join back in.

One of the great participants we had has been Saige. We visited her school, did a 4 week intro to football program at her school and then we found out that she’s transitioned back to Bowmar Auskick, one of the Auskick’s we’re working with. That’s what it’s all about.